Kobe’s Legacy – Little Known Venture Capital Fund

NBA former professional athlete, Kobe Bryant, passed away at the young age of 41 on January 26, 2020. He was among several people killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. A 6-foot-6 small forward with the ability to swing up front and play point or shooting guard, Bryant entered the NBA straight out of high school. In 1996, at age 18, he became the youngest player in NBA history. He won five NBA titles in his time with the Lakers, as well as two Olympic gold medals playing for the United States. Now fourth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 33,643 points, Bryant won two NBA Finals MVP awards and one NBA regular-season MVP nod in 2008.
Among the legacies left behind by Kobe, one that has gone unnoticed is his extensive involvement in the venture capital fund Bryant Stibel. The Bryant Stibel VC fund currently has access to more than $2 billion in resources under management. As much as I love talking about his impact on the basketball court, I also believe it is imperative to discuss his involvement in the investing world as not many basketball players venture into this realm but Kobe could serve as an inspiration for the current athletes and all of us as a whole. From the website of the VC fund, it reads – “Bryant Stibel was founded in 2013 to provide strategy, capital, and operational support to businesses with a focus across technology, media, and data. The Bryant Stibel platform is unique in that it combines the creative vision of Kobe Bryant, one of the world’s most well-known and respected sports icons, with Jeff Stibel, a proven market-driven operator and serial entrepreneur, alongside a team of proven public and private company senior management operating partners at Stibel & Co. The team has extensive experience operating technology and data-driven businesses, as well as deploying capital out of its core platforms, Bryant Stibel Growth Equity, Bryant Stibel Ventures and Bryant Stibel Value.”
Kobe Bryant was a partner of Bryant Stibel since its inception in 2013. Since 2003, Bryant partnered with Nike, playing a leadership role designing footwear and leading storytelling related to Kobe Bryant product lines. In 2006, he launched the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation to give young people access to sports, mentorship and economic empowerment. In 2009, he partnered with the Soong Ching Ling Foundation to create the Kobe China Fund, dedicated to the welfare and education of youth in China. Historically, Bryant invested in entrepreneurial companies, such as BODYARMOR and Red Ventures, that shared in his vision.

His partner, Jeff,  is a founding partner of Bryant Stibel and Stibel & Company. He is currently the Chairman of BrainGate, LegalZoom and The Search Agency, and serves on the boards of a number of private and public companies. Stibel was previously President & CEO of Web.com, Inc. (NASDAQ: WWWW) and The Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corporation, and later served as D&B’s (NYSE: DNB) Vice Chairman.
In 2014, Bryant bought a 10% share of sports drink BodyArmor. Coca-Cola just purchased a minority investment in BodyArmor. Bryant’s initial investment of $6 million turned into $200 million with the soft drink giant’s investment.
After retiring from basketball, Bryant built a multi-media content creation company, Granity Studios, that focuses on creating and producing inspiring, youth-oriented sports-meets-fantasy themed content within the book, television, feature and live theater genres. Operating as a full-fledged content house and publisher, Granity Studios projects slated for 2019 and 2020 include the publication of five Middle Grade and Young Adult novels, The Wizenard Series: Training Camp, Legacy and The Queen and Viva. Each book is projected to become either a live-action, theater or animated asset. Kobe’s new book, Mamba Mentality: How I Play, with photographer Andrew Bernstein was released on October 23, 2018.
Establishing the VC fund was a real move into the financial world for Bryant. In one of his previous interviews, Kobe commented – “The most important thing I enjoy now is helping others be successful. I enjoy doing that much more, that’s something that lasts forever, and hope they do that for the next generation,” said Bryant at the time. Other athletes and celebrities have similarly stepped into the venture capital space. Recently, life insurance startup, Ethos announced an $11.5M financing round led by Sequoia Capital, to make obtaining life insurance accessible and simple for everyone. Other investors in the round included a very star-studded cast which included Arrive, a subsidiary of Roc Nation; Robert Downey Jr.’s Downey Ventures; Kevin Durant’s Durant Co.; Will Smith’s Smith Family Circle; and a credit facility from a Silicon Valley Bank.
With a main focus on tech, media, and data companies believed to have the potential to become “unicorns” (or privately held startups valued at over $1 billion), Bryant Stibel has made a range of investments, several in businesses with familiar consumer brands. About a third of the 19 active companies in the Bryant Stibel portfolio is worth more than $1 billion. Overall, Bryant Stibel has invested in 28 companies, with three – Dell, Alibaba and National Vision – having gone public.
In summary, not only was Kobe a sports icon, he contributed to the VC world and was able to achieve great investment returns in some of the deals which have had major impacts in the world we live in. We can always learn from such deals and select companies we believe will make an impact.

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